If you’ve read Kevin Ma’s story on microplastics (“Microplastics, macro problem, St. Albert Gazette, July 17), you might find it difficult to pull out your credit card and not be overtaken by the image of someone munching on it.
No one wants to believe they are gobbling up five grams of plastic every week but, as Ma wrote, a new study from the University of Newcastle in Australia suggests people are consuming about 2,000 tiny pieces of plastic every week – the equivalent of one credit card. That’s approximately 21 grams per month, or just over 250 grams per year.
Plastic and plastic waste appears close to having a stranglehold on our health and the health of our planet. Municipalities around the globe are struggling to find solutions to the suffocating issue of how to effectively deal with single-use plastics, and that struggle has come home to St. Albert in recent months.
In June, Mayor Cathy Heron welcomed the federal government’s announcement that Canada would ban single-use plastic items as early as 2021 and create national standards for extended producer responsibility (EPR), a program that describes the comprehensive obligation of Canadian businesses to reduce the environmental impact of their products and packaging.
Earlier in July, councillors decided not to marry St. Albert’s efforts with those of the federal government; instead, the city would proceed with its own efforts. With this unrelenting flow of dire news on the health of our planet, the rest of us can’t afford to wait on the feds either.
When Environment and Climate Change Canada Minister Catherine McKenna announced the federal plan, she said Canadians recycle just nine per cent of the plastic they buy each year, with the rest ending up in lakes, rivers and oceans, where it’s killing birds and whales and creating those invasive microplastic particles. And one study Ma found said so much plastic waste is piling up in our waterways that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
As Christina Seidel of the Recycling Council of Alberta said recently, “The science is there and it’s very clear. We just need to get on with it.”
For over a year now, city council has been talking about how to deal with single-use plastics. Earlier this year, councillors jumped on board a lobbying effort by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to pressure the province to create EPR legislation. These are all necessary steps in the fight against plastic waste, but implementing whatever strategies emerge from the city’s study or from the federal government’s plan will take time – time it seems our planet might not have.
We might seem like a silo in St. Albert, removed from the areas of the world with the worst waste problems, but this is an issue that connects all of us.
Ultimately, the answer for the world’s plastic woes lies with producers. But for those of us who consume and create a market for plastic products, individual waste reduction efforts can help to stem the tide, since plastic items are what create microplastic waste. Just as governments are turning their attention to this problem, so we too should be individually taking Seidel’s advice to get on with it.